After Max Nordau
Let us expand the category of the degenerates
______who muddy this utopian age of pure
______money and science, to include poets
______(in addition to criminals, prostitutes, anarchists and lunatics).
The problem with the poet is that he lacks the rigour
______to adapt himself to the existing — the cause
______of his dwindling — and becomes an idle meddler,
______a cavalier visionary, monstrously ignorant of reality.
The danger of the poet, as with an ugly fetish,
______is his power to exercise suggestion, although of course
______those hysterics moved by his influence
______are already, ipso facto, degenerate subjects.
Let it be said that poetry is atavistic.
______It is a twaddle, a babbling and stammering,
______that only imbeciles and academics profess to understand.
______Clear speech, by contrast, is for capital minds.
(We must concede, however, that the poetical method
______wielded by one such as V, notwithstanding
______his asymmetric skull and pointed ears,
______yields experiences that are perplexingly beautiful.)
Black Caesar, a gargantuan escapee from a West Indian
sugar plantation, pilfered £12 from a dwelling house
in London — and was cast away with the First Fleet:
378 days on the purgatory sea to Botany Bay.
Sophie, a Malagay slave in Mauritius, torched a barn
housing a collection of leather straps — the flames soaring
like the sounds of the black horses inside — and was
packed off in a ship-sized crate to New South Wales.
Priscilla, in Jamaica, did not poison her master,
but she watched him purge his peculiar sickness
into his wife's bedpan — the ceramic one with floral motifs —
day after day, without great discontent.
A Khoi Khoi man, smaller than Ned Kelly and paler of face,
became a bushranger in Van Diemen's Land — although
Black Caesar, famous for his hard labour and gunmanship
among the Founders at Sydney Cove, was the first.
Before he bolted he even got a shot away at the Aborigine
Pemulwuy, who had killed the governor's gamekeeper;
(Pemulwuy took seven pieces of buckshot
that time and still did not go down in history.)
Of course, the colonial office properly stopped it all,
but by then Martin and Randall, also among the Founders,
had set up Dixieland — outside Sydney — their progeny spreading
like mice or men right across this wide brown land.
The universe yawns,
cavernous as a mirror.
Half of earth's creatures:
star-struck and blind.
A dream, earth-bound
and sudden as a cockroach.
Night is true.
And not true.
Supple dawn light
blesses small spaces.
My son in his highchair
looks into a mirrored spoon.
Maria Takolander's book of poems, Ghostly Subjects, was shortlisted for a Queensland Premier's Literary Award in 2010. Her poems have appeared regularly in The Best Australian Poems and The Best Australian Poetry. She was awarded an Australia Council grant to complete a collection of short stories, The Double, to be released in 2013. She is a senior lecturer in literary studies and creative writing at Deakin University in Geelong, Victoria.